Gender & Society in the Classroom: Parenting

Organized by: Jennifer Haskin, Arizona State University

This section features a selection of 15 recent articles featured in Gender & Society between that are relevant to discussions about parenting.  Also, because parenting has multiple meanings and is situated within and influenced by a variety of social and structural contexts, additional articles have been included that relate to mothering and fathering. 

Craig, Lyn.  2006.  Does Father Care Mean Fathers Share?: A Comparison of How Mothers and Fathers in Intact Families Spend Time with Children. Gender & Society 20(2): 259-281.

This research takes a look at how mothers and fathers in intact families spend time with their children, and asks, are there gender differences in quality and quantity of parenting time?  Data come from the Australian bureau of Statistics Time Use Survey (1997), and the researcher categorizes child care into the following four categories: 1) Interactive Child Care, 2) Physical and Emotional Child Care, 3) Travel and Communication, and 4) Passive Child Care.  Lyn finds that women spend more time physically caring for children (the time oriented, not so fun tasks), whereas fathers spend more interactive time with children (the unscheduled, fun, play oriented tasks).  When factoring in “double activity,” mothers are more likely to be multitasking while caring for children.  For example, cooking dinner for children while talking with them about their day in school.  Fathers spend much less time alone with their children.  More often than not, mothers are also present and are acting as the sole parent in charge.  The author concludes that mothers spend more time providing care for their children – even when they work for pay outside of the home, and thus mothers are working harder than fathers.  

Padavic, Irene and Jonniann Butterfield. 2011. Mothers, Fathers, and “Mathers”: Negotiating a Lesbian Co-parental Identity. Gender & Society 25(2): 176 – 196.

Using in-depth interview data, this research explores how lesbian parents navigate their identities as mothers, fathers and – a hybrid of the two – “mathers.”  Stemming in large part from social and legal discrimination, lesbian co-parents discuss the internal struggles they face in terms of their identities as parents.  Many participants felt that their parental identity did not fit into the binary categories “mother/father,” and as such, constructed a hybrid identity, “mather.”  This article is excellent for generating discussions of parental identity, and also the ways in which lesbian couples negotiate heteronormative assumptions with regard to women parents.  

Rehel, Erin.  2014. When Dad Stays Home Too: Paternity Leave, Gender, and Parenting.  Gender & Society 28(1): 110-132.

Rehel’s research explores how extended paid parental leave impacts whether new fathers develop parenting skills that we typically associate with mothers.  By using a sample of mothers and fathers from three geographic locations, Rehel is able to highlight the role of paid parental leave policies on household division of labor and parenting.  See here for my extended discussion of this research.  

Rahilly, Elizabeth. 2015. The Gender Binary Meets the Gender-Variant Child: Parents’ Negotiations with Childhood Gender Variance.  Gender & Society 29(3): 338-361.

This qualitative research uses Foucault’s concept “truth regime” to explore the practices that parents of gender-variant children employ as they negotiate and strategize parenting children whose gender identity is non-binary.  Rahilly’s findings suggest that parents work to maintain a boundary around when and where gender non-conforming presentations were allowed through a practice she terms, “gender hedging.”  Also, to further understand gender-variant children, and garner a sense of “gender literacy” and community, Rahilly finds that parents in this sample often turned to the internet. Finally, findings suggest that parents of gender-variant children make conscious choices as to when to “play along” with others’ misconceptions about their children, and when to speak out in support of their child’s gender nonconformity.  


Blum, Linda.  2007.  Mother-Blame in the Prozac Nation: Raising Kids with Invisible Disabilities. Gender & Society 21(2): 202-226.

Using Lareau’s (2003) framework that “good” parenting for contemporary parents has evolved into a project of “concerted cultivation,” Blum uses interview data as well as ethnographic fieldwork to explore how mothers of children with invisible disabilities evaluate themselves as caregivers.  This research is particularly important, as there are an increasing number of children, in particular boys, who are being diagnosed with AD/HD, dyslexia, and mood disorders.  Blum finds that mothers of children with invisible disabilities internalize self-blame, felt that others’ blamed them for their children’s disabilities (especially if they do not make an extreme effort to advocate for their children), and often share the stigma of the disability with their children.  Acting as a “vigilante” advocate for their invisibly disabled child was common, particularly in terms of the children’s education and medical needs. These mothers relentlessly pursued services and experts in order to help their children.  Blum concludes that the mother valor/mother blame dichotomy look much the same for the mothers of children with invisible disabilities.  

Miller, Tina.  2007. “Is this what Motherhood is All About?”: Weaving Experiences and Discourse through Transition to First-Time Motherhood. Gender & Society 21(3): 337-358.

Using longitudinal qualitative data, this research focuses on how women themselves engage with the discourse that surrounds cultural expectations with regard to mothering and motherhood experiences.  This article focuses on those who fit the stereotype of “good mother,” (i.e., married, white, and middle class).  Their relationship to popular discourses is of particular interest to the author, in large part because of their social status…is it harder for them to resist because they fit the “good mother” stereotype?  Miller highlights women’s experiences during the prenatal, and early motherhood stages to explore women’s expectations as they correspond to each stage versus their actual experiences.  

McQuillan, Julia, Arthur L. Greil, Karina M. Shreffler, and Veronica Tichenor.  2008.  The Importance of Motherhood Among Women in the Contemporary United States. Gender & Society 22(4): 477-496.

This research utilizes quantitative methodology to answer the question, “Do women who value success in paid work consider motherhood less important?”  Using Rational Choice/Economic, Culture and Identity, and Life-course/Situational approaches, McQuillan, et al., find that despite popular cultural beliefs, women can and do indeed simultaneously value paid work and motherhood.  Further, the authors find that valuing work success is positively associated with valuing motherhood. 

Jacobs, Janet, and Stefanie Mollborn.  2012.  Early Motherhood and the Disruption in Significant Attachments: Autonomy and Reconnection as a Response to Separation and Loss among African American and Latina Teen Mothers.Gender & Society 26(6): 922-944.

Using life history narratives of 18 African American and 30 Latina young women, this research explores strategies African American and Latina teen mothers use in response to disruption in significant attachments that occur as a result of their teen pregnancy.  The authors find that becoming autonomous, and being emotionally strong (i.e. accommodating the “strong black woman” stereotype) were strategies girls used in effort to repair damaged relationships, often at the expense of their own well-being.  Additionally, a majority of the teen mothers in this study turned toward their relationships with their children, developing deep connections with their own children.  This is a helpful resource for generating discussions that challenge popular conceptions of why teen girls become mothers, what happens to their familial bonds when they do become mothers, and how teen mothers negotiate and repair fractured relationships.  

Peng, Yinni and Odalia M. H. Wong.  2013.  Diversified Transnational Mothering Via Telecommunication: Intensive, Collaborative, and Passive.  Gender & Society 27(4): 419-513.

This research explores mothering strategies employed by Filipina domestic workers employed in Hong Kong.   Peng and Odalia’s findings suggest that mobile phones provide transnational mothers with a means by which to engage in intensive mothering from a distance.  As well, mobile phone technology enables transnational mothers to collaborate with those who are caring for their children.  This finding could lead to fruitful discussions about gendered parenting ideologies.  Finally, the authors find the mothers in this study also experience pain as a result of being indirectly involved in their children’s day to day lives.  Instructors may consider pairing this reading with Dreby, Joanna.  2006. Honor and Virtue: Mexican Parenting in the Transnational Context. Gender & Society 20(1): 32-59. 

Reich, Jennifer.  2014. Neoliberal Mothering and Vaccine Refusal: Imagined Gated Communities and the Privilege of Choice.  Gender & Society 28(5): 679-704.

This article explores the narratives of 25 mothers who either followed an alternative vaccination schedule, or refused vaccines for their children altogether.  Through an analysis of interview data, Reich shows how neoliberal mothering and privilege underlie vaccination related decisions mothers make when doing what they feel is best for their children.  This article would make for fruitful discussions about neoliberalism, intensive mothering and privilege.       


Shows, Carla and Naomi Gerstel.  2009.  Fathering, Class, and Gender: A Comparison of Physicians and Emergency Medical Technicians. Gender & Society 23(2): 161-187.

Shows and Gerstel utilize survey, interview and observational data to examine the role of social class in shaping the way that men engage in fatherhood. Participants were selected from two male dominated occupations within the same sector with characteristics that are linked to social class – namely EMTs and physicians.  Findings suggest that social class plays a significant role on the type of fathering that men do.  Specifically, Shows and Gerstel explain that the physicians they sampled prioritized breadwinning and were more engaged in “public fathering” and being involved in special events such as sporting and school events, while distancing themselves from the everyday care of their children.  Physicians, by virtue of their class status (upper-middle class), and family status (most had wives that were either stay-at-home mothers, or worked outside the home on a part-time basis) were more able to maintain separate home/work spheres. EMTs, on the other hand, did not prioritize work over family.  The EMTs in the sample reported participating in public events and participated in and prioritized the daily lives of their children – or private fathering.  This participation was enabled not only by the varied schedule of the EMT job, or the mothering work performed by their wives, but also the relationships that the men had with co-workers.  Shows and Gerstel conclude that at least for these two groups of men, class shapes fathering. 

Solebello, Nicholas and Sinikka Elliott.  2011. “We Want them To be as Heterosexual as Possible”: Fathers Talk about Their Teen Children’s Sexuality. Gender & Society 22(3): 293-315.

This research relies on interview data from fathers of teenage children to explore how fathers think about their children’s sexuality, and the ways in which gender and sexual norms are communicated both informally and formally.  Many of the fathers interviewed described their role in communicating information about sex and sexuality as nonexistent.  Informally, however, Solabello and Elliot found that although none of the fathers claimed to assume heterosexuality, norms about sexual behavior and sexuality reflected a gendered pattern.  Fathers wanted their daughters to refrain from engaging in sexual relationships, and felt less accountable for their daughter’s sexuality.  On the other hand, fathers encouraged their sons to date, and considered their sons consumption of pornography as indicative of a heterosexual identity.  The authors conclude that the lessons that fathers teach their teenage children ultimately reinforce gender binaries and privilege heterosexuality.  

Chelsey, Noelle.  2011.  Stay-at-Home Fathers and Breadwinning Mothers: Gender, Couple Dynamics, and Social Change. Gender & Society 25(5): 642-664.

Drawing on telephone interview data, this study explores the ways in which families with stay-at-home fathers reduce gender inequality, and seemingly “undo” gender at the interactional level as a result of structural shifts (in this case, the job market).  Chelsey argues that while the stay-at-home father is not a typical family arrangement, it is an increasing phenomenon that carries the potential for institutional change – especially when fathers re-enter the workplace.  Data from this study suggest that at-home father family forms appear to provide an increase in support for women’s participation in paid work.  Furthermore, this research makes evident that stay-at-home fathers’ evaluations of the value of unpaid labor (domestic work and childcare) are strengthened by their experience.  Finally, Chelsey suggests that with the non-traditional family form breadwinning mother/stay-at-home father, parenting can become more equal; particularly when fathers expand what and how much they do, and mothers remain heavily involved. 

Weber, Jennifer Beggs.  2012.  Becoming Teen Fathers: Stories of Teen Pregnancy, Responsibility, and Masculinity. Gender & Society 26(6): 900-921.

Through an analysis of 26 interviews with teen fathers, this research explores the ways in which young men discuss becoming fathers at a young age.  Weber focuses on young men’s narratives of responsibility to get at “what happened.”  Findings suggest that while none of the teen fathers denied fathering a child, they did utilize the following gendered discourses as they denied responsibility.  First, teen fathers placed responsibility on others, particularly the teen mother.  Second, teen fathers talked about being unable to control their desires, and got lost in the “heat of the moment.”  Finally, teen fathers talked about being in love.  This article is a good resource for generating discussions of teen fatherhood and masculinity.   

Gottzén, Lucas and Tamar Kremer-Sadlik.  2012.  Fatherhood and Youth Sports: A Balancing Act Between Care and Expectations. Gender & Society 26(4): 639-664.

This research draws on a large ethnographic study of middle-class families to examine men’s discourses about and during their children’s sports activities. Through both ethnographic research, and semi structured interviews, Lucas and Kremer-Sadlik explore the ways in which children’s team sports provide an avenue for fathers to practice “good” fatherhood.  The authors find that sports offer a unique (and gendered) opportunity for fathers to be involved in their children’s lives – often at the expense of paid work.  Team sports also provide an opportunity for fathers to engage in “caring fatherhood.”  At the same time, the authors argue, fathers want their children to do better, and be successful at their sporting activity.  Maintaining a balance between care and support (inclusive masculinity), and pushing to succeed (orthodox masculinity) is a challenge for some fathers.  Further, the authors suggest that involvement in youth sports may be a factor in middle-class men’s lack of participation in domestic and childcare tasks in the home.  Finally, Lucas and Kremer-Sadlik conclude that youth sports is an arena where men can practice “good” fatherhood without stepping out of the boundaries of either inclusive, or orthodox masculinity.